A St. Mary's County man was convicted of first-degree murder last week for fatally shooting a 22-year-old acquaintance who had asked him to apologize for a vulgar remark made to his sister.
A jury in Calvert County -- where the trial was moved in a change of venue -- took 5 1/2 hours over two days to find Jeremy J. Weigle, 21, guilty of murder, as well as 12 counts of assault and two handgun charges, for killing Kevin M. Clarke of Leonardtown and threatening several others with death at a party on Nov. 25, 2001.
"I'm just so relieved," said Joanne Schatz, Clarke's step-grandmother, after the verdict on Tuesday. "Really, you have no idea what the impact has been on our family."
Weigle, dressed in gray pinstriped pants, a white shirt and dark tie, blinked several times when the verdict was read but did not otherwise visibly react. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole and more than 100 additional years for the assault and gun charges. A sentencing date was not set Tuesday.
Clarke's mother, Eileen Bildman of Leonardtown, said she wanted Weigle to receive the maximum term.
"No question about it," she said. "He took my son's life, and he should be in jail forever."
Circuit Judge C. Clarke Raley moved the trial from St. Mary's to Calvert to avoid picking a jury in the county where Clarke, Weigle and several witnesses with well-known family names grew up.
Clarke's slaying occurred last year at a Thanksgiving weekend party of dozens of young people he had known in high school. The gathering was a homecoming of sorts for Clarke, who had left home for Arizona two years earlier and returned permanently only a few weeks before the shooting.
Held at a secluded, rented house on the St. Mary's River, the party turned violent when Clarke asked Weigle to apologize to his sister for using a vulgar term to describe her. Weigle replied that he had not been speaking to Clarke's sister and refused to apologize, witnesses testified.
When Clarke pressed the issue, Weigle pulled out a .40-caliber handgun, said St. Mary's County State's Attorney Richard D. Fritz in closing arguments to jurors on Monday.
"If he had just apologized . . . but that would have lowered him, his status, in the eyes of his companions," Fritz said. "The only way to keep his status was to take out a gun and kill another man. He did exactly what his warped sense of honor in the eyes of his little army caused him to do."
Weigle, his brother Joshua, 19, and a friend, Stewart Burns, 21, were all armed with handguns they had purchased illegally months before, Fritz said. For several minutes before Weigle shot Clarke, the three men terrorized the party, with Weigle pointing the gun at several people and asking them, "Who wants to die?" witnesses testified.
Seven witnesses to the shooting identified Weigle as Clarke's killer. Calling the shooting "every parent's worst nightmare," Fritz said he would argue for a sentence of life without parole "to let the community know that young boys will not be allowed to be walking out on the streets with guns like it's a wild, wild West show."
Weigle's attorney, Don E. Ansell, said the verdict should have been manslaughter or second-degree murder. He said the jury's verdict did not take into account his client's fear just before the shooting.
Though no one else had a gun, Ansell said in closing arguments, Weigle acted in what he thought was the defense of his life. A crowd of about 20 people Weigle did not know was moving in to see the argument between him and Clarke, and he was overcome with fear, Ansell said.
"It wasn't something that he thought out in advance," Ansell said. "It's something he did on the spur of the moment out of fear."
Ansell said a psychologist who evaluated Weigle would testify at his sentencing hearing. He said Weigle was "remorseful about what took place."
Burns, who is accused of pointing a .380-caliber handgun toward at least one partygoer, is scheduled to stand trial on murder and assault charges beginning tomorrow in Calvert. Witnesses testified that Burns urged Weigle to shoot Clarke.
Joshua Weigle will face similar charges at a trial set for Dec. 12.